Like every good action hero, the Dark Knight Detective is a man of few words. When he speaks, people listen, whether they be low-life crims, intergalactic madmen or super-powered team-mates. Batman’s words can be just as painful, and memorable as any of the broken bones he gives those who get in his way. Here’s a mere sampling of the DC hero’s best, from the comics page to the screen.
1987’s Justice League International #5 is host to a classic Batman scene. Throughout their run of the re-vamped League in the 1980s writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, joined by the multitude of facial expressions from artist Kevin Maguire, established a new era, filled with bold humour and whacky adventures. The new Justice League (consisting of Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate, Mister Miracle and a few other heroes who were previously mere second-stringers) can barely tolerate each other at times, let alone save the world. Things come to a head when Batman and Green Lantern freshman Guy Gardner have a heated discussion about the leadership of the League. Actually, it’s the annoying Gardner who gets heated. Batman remains as cool as a cucumber while Guy points his finger and claims he’s the “top dog,” to which Batman replies, “This isn’t a kennel, Guy, so stop acting like a mongrel.” However when the ring-wielder’s rants continue, Batman stays with the canine theme, claiming Guy is, “all bark and no bite.” With eyes bulging and fists at the ready, Gardner charges at the Dark Knight. Batman is not amused and knows that actions speak louder than words – and hits him. One punch straight to Guy’s ugly mug. With boasting undone, Guy lands on his back unconscious, leaving Blue Beetle to break into hysterics and Black Canary to despair that she missed it.
Director Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film may not adhere to the source material (Joker killed Bruce Wayne’s parents?! Huh?!), but it did one thing right. To a generation of kids, and quite a few adults, it made Batman cool. Considering the campy TV series two decades previous, that was no easy task. Outside of the comics the Caped Crusader had really only be seen as a vehicle for Adam West’s theatrics and as a cardboard character on the animated Super Friends series. Casting comedic actor Michael Keaton seemed like a huge leap in the wrong direction, but he brought a darkness that no-one saw coming. Descending upon the screen enveloped in steam and shadows The Dark Knight confronts two terrified thieves on a rooftop. Dispatching one with lightning quick moves, his remaining partner shouts with horror, “Who are you?!” The vigilante leans forward and whispers with menace, stamping his claim on the criminal and all like him with two simple words of raw power – “I’m Batman.” Two words so powerful infact that they were echoed in Batman Begins when crime boss Carmine Falcone wonders, “What the hell are you?” before being taken into the darkness and chained to a spotlight in a declaration to all of Gotham’s criminals.
The adult nature of 2004’s seven issue mini-series Identity Crisis by novelist Brad Meltzer and artist Rags Morales was a revelation to those unaware of the tragedy inherent in the modern DC Universe. With the rape of a superhero’s wife, bloody violence and the betrayal of Batman by mind wiping hero Zatanna, the tale is a superbly mature look at the complex lives of crime-fighters. The World’s Greatest Detective is on the case of the mysterious death of Sue Dibny (wife of former Leaguer, Elongated Man) while the other heroes scramble to protect themselves and their loved ones from the unknown killer. Batman is a force of nature as always, determined to solve the mystery while all around him unravels, leading him to ruminate on his very purpose as a ‘normal’ man surrounded by powerful beings he’s increasingly distrustful of. “People think it’s an obsession. A compulsion. As if there were an irresistible impulse to act. It’s never been like that. I chose this life. I know what I’m doing. And on any given day, I could stop doing it. Today, however, isn’t that day. And tomorrow won’t be either.” A reminder that Batman’s greatest asset is his undying determination.
The animated Justice League Unlimited TV show was a dream for comic book aficionados, with it’s huge cast of heroes from DC’s comics. In the first season’s final episode, Epilogue, we are given a look at the future, 65 years from now. Terry McGinnis, the hero from another DC ‘toon, Batman Beyond, is told by former government agent Amanda Waller that she manipulated Terry’s DNA so he could become the genetic son of Bruce Wayne, in order to continue his legacy. The elderly Bruce agrees. He knows that the earth needs someone like him, reminding the defiant Terry that Batman plans for every possibility, and while clutching his medication, exclaims, “The world does need a Batman. It always will.”
The 2005-06 mini-series Infinite Crisis, though bewildering to DC newbies, is the stuff that makes superhero comics great – worlds at stake, sacrificial deaths and multi-layered story telling. DC’s Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) gather at the wreckage of the moon based JLA HQ, the Watchtower, to discuss recent events, such as Wonder Woman’s murder of the traitorous Maxwell Lord, leading to tirades on the corruption of power and the nature of good and evil, and forcing Batman to examine his often antagonistic friendship with the Man of Steel, spouting forth, “Everyone looks up to you. They listen to you. If you tell them to fight, they’ll fight. But they need to be inspired. And let’s face it, “Superman” … the last time you really inspired anyone was when you were dead.” Ouch.
You can tell a lot about a person with their last words. In 2009’s Final Crisis #6 Batman met his Maker while saving the universe, but took out classic Superman villain Darkseid at the same time. Bruce broke his vow to never use a gun in his final appearance, as it was a gun that destroyed his parents all those years ago. It was also a gun that destroyed any potential for normalcy, and gave the world evil’s worst enemy. So, staring down the reborn god of evil with the instrument of his own creation in his hands and moments before he became a steaming corpse, what did he say? What else could he say, but “Gotcha.”
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